Marcello Lippi and Sven-Goran Eriksson are among the globle's most renowned and successful football managers. And they are no strangers to each other, having met on no less than two dozen occasions across fourteen years. Their last meeting dates back to the Italian Super Cup in 2000, when Eriksson's Lazio edged Lippi's Internazionale in a 4-3 thriller.
13 years have elapsed and the pair meet again, though this time in China. Sunday's Chinese Super League fixtures see them face off in a city derby in Guangzhou with Eriksson's Guangzhou R&F challenging Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande.
Upon their promotion to the top flight, R&F caught their city rivals out last season by twice emerging unlikely winners, with a spirited 2-0 home win followed by an away victory by a single goal. However, this season's first meeting in April saw Evergrande gain revenge with a 2-0 triumph, with new Brazilian signing Elkeson twice on target.
"Evergrande are strong opponents," Yakubu Aiyegbeni, who scored the only goal as R&F earned a second consecutive win last year, told FIFA.com ahead of the game. "They are the best team in the Chinese League. It is no easy match for us tomorrow, but we are confident we'll earn a good result and we have proved capable of doing that."
"It will be a good match," echoed Eriksson, who has won five out of nine league games since joining R&F in June. "Lippi and I have been friends for many years and this derby and its result won't affect our relationship. Evergrande are a strong team and they are expected to win so the pressure is on their side. We will do whatever we can to achieve a satisfying result."
Lippi, who oversaw his side's 2-0 victory over Qatari side Lekhwiya in Wedesday's AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg, may remain tight-lipped on the meeting but with Evergrande unstoppable on both home and Asian front this season, the hosts are the undisputed favourites for media and fans alike.
The Guangzhou derby is set to capture the nation's attention, with the game sold out days prior to the kick-off. It represents the highest level of competition in the Chinese Super League on the pitch as well as in the dugouts.
Both clubs, with their strong financial support, have spared little in star recruitments as they have quickly established themselves among the top domestic contenders. Since earning their return to the Super League in 2012, Evergrande have signed a series of imported stars in Dario Conca, Lucas Barrios and Elkeson. Adding to that are seven Chinese internationals spearheaded by China captain Zheng Zhi.
Blessed with such an enviable line-up, Evergrande took the 2011 season by storm by winning their first league title, the first time for a newly-promoted side. Under Lippi, who took over in the middle of the previous season, they successfully retained the championship while storming into the quarter-finals in their maiden AFC Champions League.
And they have maintained the all-conquering form this season, establishing a double-digit cushion at the summit of the standings which sees them well on course for their third successive league title.
Not to be outdone, R&F secured the services of AFC Champions League winning coach Sergio Farias and former Middlesbrough and Everton marksman Yakubu as they aimed to make an impact in their top-flight debut last year. They emerged as last season's surprise packages, finishing seventh including those two wins that stunned Evergrande.
Unexpectedly, R&F opened this season in disappointing fashion with three opening defeats and went five matches winless, results which left them on the edge of the relegation zone. However, their fortunes were revived with the arrival of Eriksson, who got his tenure off to a brilliant start with two wins in a row. They enter the city derby on the back of three consecutive victories, results which moved them into the top five in the table.
"This should be a special game for the coaches, players as well as fans from the city", continued Yakubu, who scored his tenth goal this season as R&F thrashed Wuhan Zall 5-1 last Sunday. "Evergrande are the favourites but we are a strong team and the players are in good form."
He attributed R&F's recent progress to his former boss Eriksson, who brought him from Everton to Leicester City in the 2010/2011 season. He said:" Everyone knows he is a world-class coach. We were not in a good shape when he came here. But he quickly reorganised the team and he helped us regain our self-belief. He never put us under pressure but he knows how to motivate the players well and get the best out of everyone. Now we are a solid, strong side again."
Nicknamed by British fans as "Yak" during his nine-year spell in England, the 30-year-old Nigerian shook his head with a trademark grin when asked to predict the derby. "I never predict the result. I am always prepared for a match because as a striker, I must focus on scoring goals and helping my team win. As long as we maintain our confidence and play our game, we can defeat them."